In hazing, context matters.

Attempting to define hazing by listing behaviors is futile and misguided. Hazing is not a behavior. It cannot be diagnosed simply by comparing observable acts with a list.

  • Walking in a line or wearing similar clothing.
  • Carrying prescribed materials.
  • Drinking alcohol.
  • Studying obscure information.
  • Doing a group scavenger hunt.
  • Buying gifts for one another.

Some of these behaviors are problematic, but without more information, it is impossible to determine whether they involve hazing.

Hazing is a social situation. It is an interpersonal phenomenon defined by the nature of relationships between individuals and the context of their interactions. To identify it, we need to look past the observable behavior to explore the pattern of interactions among those involved.

  • Is there a pattern of psychological manipulation?
  • Are there signs of deceit or intentionally withholding information?
  • Is there a pattern of social influence that discourages people from refusing to participate (i.e., coerced consent)?
  • Are there patterns of unreasonably constraining or controlling someone’s behavior?
  • Are there signs of social isolation or manipulation?
  • Is there a pattern of abusing power at the expense of new members?

To date, efforts to address the problem have focused on a small set of behaviors commonly associated with hazing situations. Behaviors are easier to observe and address through legal and conduct systems, so this makes sense. But this perspective overlooks the true social-psychological nature of the problem. As we learn more about hazing, it is important to acknowledge that context matters – we must address the situation, not simply the behaviors.